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Column

Illinois stands to lose billions if we don’t maintain our locks and dams

Illinois stands to lose billions if we don’t keep them in working order

Doug Schroeder
Doug Schroeder

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in Shaw Media’s Illinois AgriNews publication.

Trains, planes and automobiles; these are the modes of transportation we most often talk about. While important to infrastructure and the moving of people and goods, we can’t forget about another major method of transportation – water.

American industries of all types rely on inland waterways, such as the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, to help transport goods. Annually, 230 billion tons of cargo are delivered through the Mississippi waterway and its tributaries.

Goods transported include everything from petroleum to manufactured goods, chemicals, coal and the soybeans you work hard to harvest every year.

Inland waterways are vital to the health and profit of the grains industry. More than 60% of the soybeans produced in Illinois are exported, with the overwhelming majority traveling through Illinois waterways.

Transporting crops via waterways benefits Illinois soybean growers because it allows us to tap into domestic and international markets, providing a competitive advantage over other countries.

There is a sad reality, though. Our locks and dams are outdated and exhausted, making waterway transportation slow and sometimes dangerous.

Within the upper Mississippi River and its tributaries, 34 of the 38 locks are outdated, and it would cost a whopping $100 million annually to repair them.

The La Grange lock and dam near Beardstown, Illinois, is one example. It connects Chicago and Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.

Daily, 700,000 tons of goods worth approximately $27 million are moved through this lock, including many of the soybeans grown in Illinois. Failure to keep this location open would threaten our primary path for soybean exports, resulting in a $2.1 billion loss in farm-dependent income.

Built in 1936, the La Grange lock and dam was made to last only 50 years. Now 34 years past its “best-by” date, the location needs major rehab to fix concave walls, jagged cement and failing equipment.

This is just one of many facilities in need of repair.

The Illinois Soybean Association realizes the importance of waterway transportation to support export opportunities. ISA’s checkoff program lead collaborations and facilitate discussions with industry, government, academia and transportation stakeholders to find solutions to the challenges our inland waterways are facing.

In order to make the necessary repairs and updates to our locks and dams, closures will occur throughout 2020. Although an inconvenience, these closures will benefit soybean growers in the long run by extending the lifespan of locks and dams to create a sustainable way to move soybeans.

Illinois waterways are essential to drive a strong economy and keep Illinois competitive in the global market, and ISA recognizes the important role they play for growers in our state.

Our lives and livelihoods are supported by waterway transportation, which is why ISA is committed to working with partners to keep our locks and dams open and functional.

To learn more about Illinois waterways and transporting soybeans, visit ilsoy.org.

Doug Schroeder is chairman of the Illinois Soybean Association Board of Directors.

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